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Valy-e-Faqih (Supreme Spiritual Leader)

The highest-ranking official in the Islamic Republic is the leader or Vali-e-Faghih (Jurisprudential Guardianship or Supreme Leader). Iran has three powers namely, the executive, the legislative and the judiciary, which are all headed by Vali-e-Faghih. The leader or the leadership council is chosen by the Council of Experts, the members of which are elected by the direct vote of the people. The Constitution specifically named Ayatollah Sayyid Ruhollah Musavi Khomeini as the Faqih for life and provided a mechanism for choosing his successors. The role of the Faqih evolved into that of a policy guide and arbitrator among competitive views. Below the Faqih a distinct separation of powers exists between the executive and legislative branches.

The highest authority in the Islamic Republic of Iran is the Supreme Leader, who as per the Constitution should enjoy piety and fairness, as well as proper political and social insight, prudence and academic qualifications for issuing decrees on various issues of fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence). The Experts Assembly whose members are 70 mujtahids (jurisprudents) elected by the people have the duty to elect the Supreme Leader.

The amendment of the constitution modified the original constitution so that the Leadership Council was removed and the Assembly of Experts for Leadership given the task of electing a single Supreme Leader. The constitution originally provided for election of a Supreme Leader either by the people, as in the case of Imam Khomeini, or by the Assembly of Experts. The related amendment removed the first option. The Assembly of Experts was given the task of dismissing the leader from his position if he was found incapable of carrying out his duties, or if he lost the requirements of a leader, or if it became clear that he lacked some of them from the beginning. The Supreme Leader was no longer required to be a supreme theological authority (marja' taqlid) whom Shia Muslims follow. He should, however, possess adequate knowledge to issue edicts on the basis of various chapters of the Islamic canon.

The preamble to the Constitution vests supreme authority in the Faqih. According to Article 5, the Faqih is the just and pious jurist who is recognized by the majority of the people at any period as best qualified to lead the nation. In both the preamble and Article 107 of the Constitution, Khomeini is recognized as the first Faqih. Articles 108 to 112 specify the qualifications and duties of the Faqih. The duties include appointing the jurists to the Council of Guardians, the Chief Judges of the judicial branch, the Chief of Staff of the armed forces, the commander of the Pasdaran (Pasdaran-e Enghelab-e Islami, or Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, or Revolutionary Guards, IRGC), the personal representatives of the Faqih to the Supreme Defense Council (and in later ammendments to he Supreme National Security Council, SNSC), and the Commanders of the Army, Air Force, and Navy, following their nomination by the Supreme Defense Council (later the SNSC). The Faqih was also authorized to approve candidates for presidential elections. In addition, he was empowered to dismiss a President who has been impeached by the Majlis or found by the Supreme Court to be negligent in his duties.

Additional functions and authorities of the Supreme Leader included: Determination of the general policies of the system, holding the supreme command of the Armed Forces, declaration of war or peace, appointment and dismissal of the Faqihs (clerical Islamic canonists) of the Council of Guardians, head of Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB), pardoning or mitigating the sentences of condemned persons, resolving intricate questions of the system that cannot be settled through ordinary means through the Expediency Council, and resolving disputes and coordinating relations between the three powers.

Articles 5 and 107 of the Constitution also provided procedures for succession to the position of Faqih. After Khomeini, the office of Faqih was to pass to an equally qualified jurist. If a single religious leader with appropriate qualifications could not be recognized consensually, religious experts elected by the people were to choose from among themselves three to five equally distinguished jurists, who then would constitute a collective Faqih, or Leadership Council. In accordance with Article 107, an eighty-three-member Assembly of Experts was elected in December 1982 to choose a successor to Khomeini.

There were also several institutions and agencies which were not accountable to any branch of state, and were overseen by the Supreme Leader through his representatives.

Even before the first meeting of the Assembly of Experts in the spring of 1983, some influential members of the clergy had been trying to promote Ayatollah Hosain Ali Montazeri (born 1923), a former student of Khomeini, as successor to the office of Faqih. As early as the fall of 1981, Khomeini himself had indicated in a speech that he considered Montazeri the best qualified to be Faqih. Hojjatoleslam Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, who as of late 1987 had been the speaker of the Majlis since its formation in 1980, also supported Montazeri's succession. Rafsanjani, in fact, nominated him at the first deliberations of the Assembly of Experts, as well as at subsequent conventions in 1984 and 1985. At the third meeting, Montazeri was designated "deputy" rather than "successor," but this put him in line to be Khomeini's successor. Since November 1985, the press and government radio and television broadcasts referred to Montazeri as the Faqih-designate.

Ayatollah Hossein-Ali Montazeri, a once-influential clergyman, was disgraced by Ayatollah Khomeini after he criticized the excesses of the Islamic regime against opposition groups. In June 2003 more than 250 Iranian intellectuals called on Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to relinquish his status as Iran's Supreme Leader and abandon the principle of being God's representative on earth.

During the first term of President Khatami, the parliament tried to investigate parts of the government under Ayatollah Khamenei's control. They were sharply rebuked for trying to do that. Subsequently, it appeared that Ayatollah Khamenei had recognized parliament's right to investigate the organs of government under his control. Whatever willingness might have existed on the part of the institute of the Faqih was quickly limited again after the election of President Ahmadinejad in 2005, who enacted measures to make it more difficult to challange or limit the powers of the Faqih, proposals that had been endorsed to varying degrees by politicians as divergent as former Presidents Rafsanjani and Khatami.

Supreme Guide Ali Khamenei reportedly suffered from stage 4 prostate cancer. Khamenei underwent prostate surgery in September 2014 and spent about a week in the hospital. His hospitalization in March 2015 spurred on the race for a successor. The appointment of Khameneis successor will be influenced as much by his political connections than his religious knowledge. Popular candidates [as of early 2015] included Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi, acting chairman of the Assembly of Experts, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who now heads the Expediency Discernment Council, Sadeq Larijani, who the judiciary. Larijani is an ayatollah, but aged 53 he is considered young religious sage and inexperienced. Mohammad Taghi Mesbah Yazdi is of the far-right, and often puts off not only reformers but also conservatives closer to the center. Mojtaba Khamenei, the supreme leader's second son, is unlikely to garner support because he is only 45. And his religious education is incomplete.




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